Changes: Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon) is back after missing Donington, and in addition we have Kevin Chen in the third Raikkonen Robertson Racing car. The field is further expanded by the addition of five cars in the Invitation ...
Changes: Stephane Richelmi (Barazi Epsilon) is back after missing Donington, and in addition we have Kevin Chen in the third Raikkonen Robertson Racing car. The field is further expanded by the addition of five cars in the Invitation Class (they do not score points). The ART Grand Prix team has brought three of their drivers, Valtteri Bottas, Jules Bianchi and Esteban Gutierrez, while Carlin Motorsport has Jake Rosenzweig and Nico Marroc is representing Racing Experience.
Ricciardo back on form
At Spa late today Daniel Ricciardo and Max Chilton locked out the front row for Carlin Motorsport for round 13 of the British F3 International series. 3rd was rapid Dutchman (and thus almost local) Renger van der Zande (Hitech Motorsport), this time not able to dominate the session. The National Class pole went to Gabriel Dias (T-Sport), despite ending up sitting in the gravel traps watching the latter part of the session. Just behind him, and sharing the 6th row of the grid was Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport), the series leader less than two tenths shy of the Brazilian. The front runner in the Invitation Class was Bianchi, which should come as no surprise, but ART didn't dominate in the way that many feared they might, and the Frenchman was only 5th overall with team mate Bottas two places back, the two of them book-ending Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing). However, before all of this could be decided there was a qualifying session to be run.
Fog, torrential rain, thunderstorms, bright sunshine and strong winds all within the same day? Check! Waffles, frites and mayonnaise, and beer on sale everywhere? Check! Some of the best racing you'll find anywhere? Check! We must be at Spa. However, the rain had abated after some pretty nasty weather by the time the British F3 boys rolled out onto the twisting Grand Prix circuit to put their reputations on the line once more this season. Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport) had been quick all day in the free practice sessions, and he still was at the start of the session. Mind you so was everyone else with a dry track to play with. Buzaid was rapidly demoted from provisional overall pole by Bianchi, though that also didn't last too long. First, though, he was joined on the front row by Bottas.
It wasn't long before McKenzie leaped up to National Class pole, though, a long way ahead of the slower drivers out there, including Chen who hadn't looked at all impressive all day and wasn't about to start now. He was edged back down by Dias on the same lap. At the very front, meanwhile, the fastest time of all was now set by Chilton, though it didn't take long for Ricciardo to find a response. Boyd, meanwhile, was 5th, all buoyed up after his first victory at Donington last Sunday. And then all progress came to halt after Max Snegirev (Team West-Tec) had his usual accident a bit earlier than normal, the hapless Russian bringing the red flags out and the session to a halt.
The order at this early stage then was pole to Ricciardo, from Chilton, Bianchi, Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing), Boyd, Bottas, Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport), Buzaid, Dias and Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), the Colombian having missed the first free practice session of the day, seemingly because he couldn't be bothered to turn up in time, thus earning himself s fine for missing the drivers' briefing! 11th was in the hands of Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport), the Englishman just ahead of Philip Major (Carlin Motorsport), Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport), McKenzie, Gutierrez, Rosenzweig, Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3/Bridger Motorsport), Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing), Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and van der Zande who had been about to start a proper flying lap when the red flags were hauled out. 21st was Marroc, from Victor Correa (Litespeed F3), Chen, Richelmi and Snegirev.
The trouble with stoppages, even if the clock is stopped as it was in this case, is that everyone loses a lot of time because it takes so long to get back up to speed at the restart. It's likely that several people were cursing Snegirev as they went back out scant minutes later.
The first flying lap afterwards saw Chilton go to pole, while Grubmuller edged into 5th and Buzaid slotted in in 7th. Bottas was next to improve with a time that was good enough to put him 4th, while van der Zande was now 6th after a substantial improvement. Huertas had obviously decided that he did care after all and was able to slot in a lap that put him 7th. However, the real flyer at this point was Ricciardo, the series leader posting a time in response to Chilton's effort that put him back on pole and into the 2 minute 14 second bracket. McKenzie was also trying hard and was able to butt up against Dias, though he couldn't quite find the speed to snatch the class pole back from him. Meanwhile, in a surprising development this season, Lloyd was up to 5th. He dropped a place when van der Zande rocketed round to snatch 3rd, but a lap later he was back up to 4th, a great effort from this family-owned and run team. Certainly Grubmuller couldn't get on terms with him this time, the Austrian stuck in 6th. Rosenzweig, who had been very quick indeed in the sodden free practice conditions, was languishing in 9th and probably wondering why these Cooper tyres behave so strangely. He wasn't about to find out because we now had yellow flags after Boyd crashed out and had to be removed to a safer place.
That slowed everyone down for a while and afterwards it looked very much as if the tyres were all completely shot. The only improvement came from Nakajima, and it was enough to put him on the fourth row of the grid. Shortly after that Dias went off at much the same spot as Snegirev and again the yellows came out for a while. And that was that. Despite the fact that there were still ten minutes left no one was able to improve and in fact the front runners dived into the pits early, not wanting to wear out their tyres any further.
That put Ricciardo firmly on pole, the only man to get below 2:15.00 in the session. Chilton lines up alongside him, with van der Zande 3rd. Lloyd hung onto 4th, ahead of Bianchi, and Grubmuller - leaving those of us of a cynical nature to wonder how exactly van der Zande would be able to hand the Austrian the race, and concluding he couldn't. 7th was Bottas, from Nakajima, Huertas and Rosenzweig. Buzaid was 11th, from Christodoulou, Boyd, Dias, McKenzie, Bridger, Arundel, Gutierrez, Garcia and Major. 21st was Richelmi, from Marroc, Chen, Correa and Snegirev (who has not completed enough laps to qualify and thus will only start at the discretion of the Clerk of the Course). He was, frankly, lucky to actually make the qualifying minima given how early he crashed out, and it might well be better if he doesn't make the start tomorrow afternoon.
Weather: Dry, overcast.